Can we rebuild the news article?

New Media group GigaOM recently suggested we need to blow up the news article in order to save it, but can it be done?

In a world of live streaming, twitter feeds and constant updates, the news article has become a superfluous extra. By the time it is written, all the news is out, and its main contribution – the background information – can be better explained by a few regularly updated Wikipedia pages, as the article explains.

The suggestion is to pull apart the news article into its components – what’s new, background, timelines, the people involved – so that readers can find what they need and get out; and news companies are begrudgingly beginning to do this, giving readers a bullet-point summary of the story before launching into the full article.

To some extent, the news article has already been blown up, at least online. Coverage of riots in Sydney by The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald support the article with photos, video, background, related links and pull-quotes, to deepen the article. However the articles are still used as the locus of the piece and still follow a linear and traditional format.

But could the news article ever be extended beyond this point? For all their criticism, these blogs have still written in a traditional format. Journalists are already short for time, and this would take even more time. The big stories are always given more time, and can be broken into more easily digestable components, but the smaller stories, the stories that probably would benefit the most from being segmented and packaged, will remain as traditional, easy to churn out, linear articles.

Perhaps the news article could be abandoned. The ABC showed how it could be done. Their coverage of the riots is presented as a timeline, interspersed with videos and interviews with individuals; details and analysis are given as bullet-points in marked boxes, and the only part resembling a traditional news article is the introductory paragraph to the timeline. Could this model, or similar models, become the new ‘inverted pyramid’ for journalism? Not really. First, it’s a format that doesn’t suit all stories, and second, it requires total dedication to the completion of a package, which wouldn’t be suitable for a short and simple story. Further, the ABC still surrounds the piece with supporting written articles.

But these are techniques and styles that could enhance even the simplest story. News moves quickly, and so people need to consume information just as quickly – to this end, cleaner and compartmentalised packaging would certainly be useful.

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